Despite the fact that diversity--or the lack thereof--has finally become a big conversation topic in the tech world, companies still have a lot of catching up to do. Even the ones that are attempting to hire more women and minorities are only making small strides: Apple recently increased its hiring of women and minorities by more than 50 percent, but women still make up only 31 percent of the workforce--up from 30 percent last year. 

If and when Silicon Valley companies want to diversify more quickly, Joelle Emerson, CEO and founder of a diversity consulting firm called Paradigm, is ready to step in. Founded in October 2014, Paradigm currently has 15 customers, including Slack, Pinterest (which recently announced ambitious diversity goals it hopes to reach by 2016), and Airbnb.

Emerson says that Paradigm assesses how well a company is doing to promote diversity in four different areas--attracting, selecting, developing, and advancing employees. By collecting data on how employees are recruited, promoted, and reviewed, Paradigm identifies where companies are breaking down when it comes to maintaining a diverse workplace. Emerson and her team then draw on a database of existing psychological and sociological research when offering clients tips on how to negate the effect of unconscious bias. Here are four of the most common ways bias can creep into the hiring and promoting processes: 

Interviews are too ad hoc.

It might be tempting to conduct an interview over lunch in order to see how a job candidate acts in a casual setting. But Emerson says companies shouldn't let interviews--and the questions asked during them--vary from candidate to candidate. It leaves room for interviewers to give better questions to the candidates they like right off the bat, thus leaving room for unconscious bias against one candidate to seep in.

Instead, Emerson suggests having a set list of questions that every candidate will be asked, and sticking to only those questions. Then once, the interview is over, write down a score for every candidate, using the same scoring rubric. "Comparing apples to apples is a much better strategy than comparing apples to oranges," says Emerson. 

There is too much emphasis on cultural fit.

Interviewing for cultural fit has been heralded by organizations like Zappos as a way to maintain an enjoyable work environment. But in practice, hiring for culture fit can often mean hiring people who look and act like existing employees, thus promoting a homogenous workforce. 

Emerson recommends you think instead about hiring for cultural add. "Think, 'who is going to bring something to the table that we want or need here?,'" she says. "As with any other interview you conduct, think in terms of specifics--write down what some values are that someone must have to succeed within your organization." 

Meeting styles don't leave time for everyone's voices to be heard.

Don't assume that if employees have something important to say during a meeting, they'll say it. Emerson says existing research shows that men are more likely to interrupt others than women. In addition, if some of your employees come from cultural backgrounds where interrupting others is considered disrespectful, they may just end up sitting on the sidelines instead of speaking up.

To ensure that everyone feels comfortable speaking up during a meeting, Emerson suggests that after each sub discussion, ask if anyone else has any thoughts they want to share, and wait 10 seconds until moving on to the next discussion point.  

Managers don't regularly keep track of employees' accomplishments.  

Performance reviews and promotion decisions are corporate staples that, if not executed properly, can be filled with unintentional bias. Emerson says that we're more likely to remember what someone did one month ago versus six months ago, so if you don't regularly keep tabs on your employees' accomplishments, you're most likely to promote the person who did a stellar job on a presentation last week.

To combat this, Emerson suggests sending out a monthly email alert that asks managers to take notes on what their team has done in the past month. "You want to force managers to take time and reflect on data and think through things," says Emerson.

Published on: Aug 18, 2015